Romania suffers from one of the highest infant mortality rates in Europe.
The simple and inexpensive practice of “skin-to-skin contact immediately after birth is recognised as an evidence-based best practice and an acknowledged contributor to improved short- and long-term health outcomes including decreased infant mortality,” as articulated by the authors of Skin-to-skin contact after birth: Developing a research and practice guideline.
One Romanian organization, Centrul ProMama led by Sorana Muresan and Andreea Manea and their colleagues are working to implement immediate, continuous, uninterrupted skin-to-skin contact as the standard of care for all mothers and all babies across the country through their Magia Maternity Program.
The program provides medical staff with about five hours of theoretical training, consulting on the practical implementation of The Magical Hour in the delivery or operating room, and a four-hour breastfeeding course. The program also includes six months of follow-up consultation.
Officially established in 2019, much of their work began in 2012, when Muresan and Manea facilitated a partnership with Healthy Children Project. As a result, the team helped implement The Magical Hour in two public and two private hospitals.
“We still remember the impact that we had during this time together!” the duo exclaims. “We learned and observed extraordinary things about skin-to-skin between the baby and the mother in the first hour after birth!”
The team goes on to report: “It took us six years to launch our programme. That was after hard work, offering antenatal classes where we constantly talked about the importance of skin-to-skin contact, organizing conferences and other events on the subject and lobbying to the Minister of Health. We even launched campaigns on social-media and television.”
During this time and sometimes today still, medical staff show(ed) less enthusiasm than Muresan and Manea.
“Many doors closed before our eyes, some brutally, others with a smile,” they remember the reluctance.
Over the years, facilitating skin-to-skin after birth has gained traction in their country though.
In the autumn of 2023, the ProMama team shared a Facebook post reporting an empty newborn nursery. Instead, all of the babies were with their mothers, a testament to the growth and effectiveness of the Magia Maternity Program.
“Some [staff] practice this routinely, but others in the public hospitals still have rigid bureaucratic procedures, which stands in their way of practicing the Magical Hour,” the ProMama team explains.
Romania is up against some of the highest c-section rates in Europe, around 40 percent.
“We believe that it is because we are not properly or only superficially informed about pregnancy, even though we have information about childbirth everywhere. In addition, mothers are anxious, some of them are over 35 years old and also have some medical problems,” the team suggests.
Though high c-section rates are cause for concern, difficulty implementing skin-to-skin after a surgical birth is only a perception. Check out the following pieces to learn about how maternal child health advocates are changing the culture of mother baby separation after c-section here, here, here and here.
Muresan and Manea explain: “The Magical Hour and the immediate initiation of breastfeeding can compensate a lot in case of c- section and it is one of our goals as prenatal educators to promote the physiology of birth and the postpartum period.”
As humans have adopted more and more technological advances, the Magic Hour is often described as a “new” concept, when the practice is actually ancient. Muresan and Manea reflect on the phenomenon of how our modern lives often interfere with the natural, physiological processes of our reproductive experiences.
“We …feel that this is a kind of paradox,” they begin. “Something so natural, so physiological and instinctive shouldn’t need so many scientific arguments. Despite this, doctors still have doubts in practicing the procedure…It’s a great step that science has come so far and that medicine can now save more lives! The problem is that it interferes very much with nature and we can no longer or no longer want to trust our instincts.”
Closing out 2023, the Magia Maternity Program had reached its seventh maternity hospital.
The team is happy to report that with the support of Dr. Vaso Edvin “…amazing things are happening.”
In an effort to continue to spread knowledge about the importance of skin-to-skin contact, the team gathered a group of influential individuals from different sectors including Karin Cadwell and Kajsa Brimdyr of Healthy Children Project at the CONFERINȚA MAGIA MATERNITĂȚII – Ora Magică în România.
“We wanted to approach the topic from different angles – medical, maternal and social,” the team shares. “It was also important for everyone to listen to the specialists from Healthy Children Project to learn what meaningful studies they have so they can understand how a single hour right after birth can improve a child’s health and development in all areas.”
The team emphasizes the life-long impact skin-to-skin offers.
As such, Muresan and Manea say that the Magia Maternity Program is their most important project.
“Our wish is for the MAgic of MAternity program to become a national program because we strongly believe that this is the natural path to healthier children, generations and society…To achieve this, we need to enable mother and child to be together and fall in love with each other after birth. This way, mothers feel comfortable, are encouraged to breastfeed and have a beautiful relationship with their children in the future. Of course, the medical staff should be there to observe, protect and preserve mother and child…The emotions we experience at every birth when we see the face of the new mother with the newborn at her breast cannot be put into words! It is moving to tears!”